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  • Writer's pictureJohn Chisholm

2020 Halifax Election - 101

Updated: Oct 6, 2020


In this post I'm sharing the most fundamental Municipal Election information.

Voter Information Letters

Voter Information Letters have been mailed out to eligible voters on the List of Electors.   If you are an eligible voter, and you have not received your Voter Information Letter by Friday, October 2, please call 902-490-VOTE (8683).   

Voter Information Letters include all the required information to vote over the phone, online, and in-person.

The 2020 election will be held on Saturday,  October 17.  Telephone and electronic voting will run from October 6 to 14, and Advanced Polling dates are October 10 and 13.

The Outs

Local government is empowered to work through a provincial act called the Municipal Government Act, which downloads certain responsibilities and rights to the local government, mainly to charge property taxes, local government's main source of revenue. In this act you will find the laws governing how Halifax works, the mayor's role, and lots of other details.

In local politics in Halifax people don't run with Parties or official party affiliation, though some candidates are associated with provincial or federal parties.

You are voting on a councilor and a mayor for a 4 year term in office. The local council is your voice at city hall and your direct connection to city government. The mayor is a ceremonial position but with a lot of perceived soft power to influence the direction of the city though no real responsibilities or powers beyond being the chair of the council meeting.

Regional Council is, in theory*, the main decision-making body for the Halifax Regional Municipality. The members are the Mayor and the 16 Councillors. Councillors also sit on boards, committees and commissions, standing committees and community councils.

*In practice council will do anything it can to download and defer decisions to bureaucrats, agencies, boards, commissions, other levels of government departments, and quasi-government organizations like Develop Nova Scotia or the Utility Review Board. Sorry, it gets bad fast even at the 101 level.


Halifax is HUGE. Amalgamated Halifax is almost four times the size of New York City. The divisions, called "Districts" in local politics are mega, especially since the number of councilors was dramatically reduced a few years back in a feigned cost saving measure. (The truth is your councilor only costs you pennies per week and more local representation by natural community would be better.)

To see a detailed map of your District here's a link to the Halifax web site. You may have to click around a by because the names of the Districts don't conform to the names of actual familiar places in the community. This is a bad thing. A borderline nefarious bit of political junk. Welcome to the world of politics on the ground.


Next you'll want to know the names of the people running. Today was the last day for candidates so here's a link to the final list of candidates with names and contact information from the Halifax web site.


Here are the qualifications to vote. Basically, if you are 1`8 and regularly live in Halifax you can vote.

Here's a form link to make sure you are already on the list to vote.

The 2020 election will be held on Saturday,  October 17.  Telephone and electronic voting will run from October 6 to 14, and Advanced Polling dates are October 10 and 13.

In the Halifax area, people can vote by phone, online or in-person, where they'll be required to wear a mask and physically distance.

They're encouraging folks, if they can, to vote at home and avoid coming to the polling locations ... just to help with crowd control because of COVID considerations.

Here's a site where you can enter your address to find out your poll location and where to vote.

I will share the phone numbers and online voting links when they become available. Hopefully, soon.


To get up to speed on the election here are some connections:

New 95.7 has daily talk on local issues

The Herald, The Coast, The Halifax Examiner, All Nova Scotia, CBC (Local), and Halifax Today, all have some information and news about the election. Google local news in your community for more like the Eastern Shore Cooperator in Musquodoboit Harbour.

On social media almost every District has a "Discussion group" on Facebook. It's likely the best place to get ground level information about Candidates, Issues, and any debates or meetings coming up in your District.

The three mayoral candidates will participate in a virtual event, where the public will be able to submit questions live, from 2-3:30 p.m. on Sept. 16. It will be streamed on the Downtown Halifax Business Commission's Facebook page and YouTube channel.


In Halifax only about a third of eligible voters cast a vote so your vote can have a big impact. Some races come down to just a few votes one way or the other.

If you live in Bedford-Wentworth... forget it. For the second election in a row Tim Outhit is acclaimed the winner because no one is standing to run against him. Such is the power of incumbency and no term limit.

In the other 15 districts over 80 candidates are running. The good news is there will be at least 5 new councilors. Councillors Lorelei Nicoll, Stephen Adams, Russell Walker and Bill Karsten are not reoffering, while Matt Whitman pursues for the mayor position.

You're not a 'voter' you are a Citizen who votes. It's a great accolade. Many through history have fought and died so that you could have this great thing.

Should we also become armchair statisticians, street engineers, city planners, economists, police experts, and ethical philosophers?


The first duty of a citizen in a democratic community is to educate themselves and to acquire the knowledge needed for dealing with civic affairs to the limits of their ability. That franchise is not a privilege or pastime. It’s a duty and a moral responsibility. It’s not pretty or easy. It’s an argument we have with ourselves about the shape of things to come, and it’s an argument that is never done.

All the cutting criticism and witty satire does not change the fact that the citizen is an officeholder of the highest degree. It’s of no use in a democracy to simply follow authority and rules. It no good to behave as if only those in authority are in a position to know and act. You must also think and question. Ultimately the citizens are the leaders.

Canadian writer John Ralston Saul put the importance of bearding power plainly, “The citizen's job is to be rude - to pierce the comfort of professional intercourse by boorish expressions of doubt.” It is of no use to wish for leaders and leadership in a democratic government. Nothing could be further from the paradigm. Those who hold highest office are there, not because they are freethinking, heavy-fisted, ideological leaders but because they are the very best followers we can find. History has had it’s share of political ‘leaders’. We’ve agreed with great force that we don’t want that. So, we get what we’ve got. Our elected politicians follow the path of public opinion. If the public does not have an opinion that is reasonably well informed, rational, and ever changing based on changing facts, the political leader is lost and fear will guide our flight from progress because progress is painful.

Citizens must be the investigators searching for the truth. It’s hard. If we’re not careful that difficulty will be used against us or it will work mindlessly against us.

For the Good Citizen there's an enemy at every turn. Adm. HG Rickover described it this way: For the citizen who strives to excel, to shoulder responsibility and to speak out, there is an enemy wherever she turns. The enemy is a man who has total willingness to delegate his worries about the world to officialdom. He assumes that only the people in authority are in a position to know and act. He believes that if vital information essential to the making of public decisions is withheld, it can only be for a good reason. If a problem is wholly or partially scientific in nature, he will ask no questions even though the consequences of the problem are political or social.


Don't let anyone tell you what to care about. You get to decide how and where to speak out or ask about the issues you care about. A frustrating aspect of having three levels of government is that it becomes a shell game. The candidate or politician will say "that's a provincial issue", 'that's a federal issue", or such and such an agency, board, commission, or department handles that. Anyone can help if they choose to. If you ask a question and just get a version of 'that's not my department' know that you deserve more and better.


There's a really good chance you can meet personally with your local candidates or at least correspond directly with them.

Why would someone offer for public service?

There are damn good reasons not to...

1/ Becoming a politician puts you in the company of a class of people held in high suspicion and low regard.

2/ It opens up your life, and the lives of your loved ones, to intense public scrutiny where in our new 'social' media age people will say just about anything - there are no boundaries.

3/ For well educated entrepreneurs and leaders there's a real opportunity cost - they could be out leveraging their latest creative business effort into a really big deal of a lifetime rather than working for a salary no matter how generous.

4/ Given the bureaucratic inertia, the sad state of party politics and lack of public support, why would anyone think they could make a difference, or change anything or even help at all.  By joining in a person might just become part of the problem.

For thinking people these reasons not to offer for public service are daunting.

Why vote for a candidate?

The corollary proposition to why someone would offer as a political candidate is how should you as a citizen assess a candidate - who should you vote for, how do you decide?

It is unlikely you will meet a candidate who appears to agree with you on every issue. If you do it's more likely a red flag that they are molly coddling you more than a sign of a good candidate.

How to judge a candidate:

1 - First, consciously decide what you are looking for in a candidate and write it down before looking at the people. Do you want the tallest and handsomest? Best hair? The one who empathizes most with you? The one who is strong on your hot button issue of the day? The one most associated with old-timey flag waving ideals? Write down five things.

2 - Then gather materials and find out about the candidates. Google them. Look at their social media. Have they been in the press or received other attention for their goings and doings? If you can't find where the candidate has taken stands on issues in the past and had the courage, or interest, as a citizen to speak out, then mark that as a strike against.

Try to come up with five things.

This is a really important part of citizenship. I was once at a Barrack Obama rally in Bangor Maine. A woman asked, "What can I do?" Obama walked over to her and I cringed a little because I thought he was going to say GET OUT THERE AND VOTE! But he didn't. He thought for a long moment and then he said, the most important thing you can do is get informed about issues you aren't self-interested in, form an opinion and have the courage to speak out.

We can't all be activists. One way to speak out is by supporting someone who shares your point of view. Since that time I've noticed in discussions and public meetings how good it feels when someone chimes in just to say I support what ... is saying. It's a good way to be involved.

3 - Consider their positions. We're looking for dreamers - not daydreamers. Are they well reasoned. If there are older issues, how did they work out over time? What specific conclusions can you draw based on the candidates personal character and views?

4 - Look at their leadership skills. Have they lead large complex organizations? Without experiential evidence, deciding if a candidate will be a good leader is difficult. How can you know if someone will be honest, open or able to act under pressure if elected to office?

There are some indications. Is the candidate willing to engage with others, particularly others who differ from them or with whom they might not agree? Are they generally emphasizing images or issues?

5 - Consider other people's views and sort what they are saying into the same critical categories in 1 - 4 (including what I've written above!). Ask why they think what they think. Ask why they think certain things are important.

Bonus point... at the local level avoid careerist politicians. I was once on a plane with Dr. John Savage after he had been 'assassinated' by the NS Liberal party backroom boys.  He was on his way to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders in Siberia. One of the most interesting things he said was "Being a politician shouldn't be the best job you ever had". Consider that when thinking about a candidate and the value of career politicians in particular.

Watch out for...

Be prepared to actively look through distortion techniques used by both supporters and detractors. Some examples are:

Name calling/Appeals to prejudice:

These are attacks on an opponent based on characteristics that will not affect performance in office. References to race, social group, ethnicity or martial status can be subtly used to instill prejudice.

Rumor mongering:

These include statements such as, "Everyone says my opponent is a crook, but I have no personal knowledge of any wrongdoing," which imply (but do not state) that the opponent is guilty.

Guilt by association:

These are statements such as, "We all know Candidate B is backed by big money interest," or "All Liberals/Tories/Dippers/Independents are..." that attack candidates because of their support rather than because of their stands on the issues. Be aware. A candidate getting money from the hot tub industry lobby might be just as dangerous as the one taking money from Developers or maybe not.


These are phrases such as "Be Bold" or "Naysayer" that are designed to trigger a knee-jerk emotional reaction and shut down thinking and discussion rather than to inform.

Passing the blame:

These are instances in which a candidate denies responsibility for an action or blames an opponent for things over which he or she had no control.

Promising the sky:

These are unrealistic promises that no one elected official could fulfill. Most important among these is a real appreciation for the uncertainty of future events. A lack of appreciation of uncertainty and risk leads to cheer-leading casino capitalist government that will consistently disappoint the public.

Evading real issues:

These include instances in which candidates may avoid answering direct questions, offer only vague solutions or talk about the benefits of proposed programs but never get specific about possible problems or costs.

Corruption and Conflict of Interest:

Local and regional authorities are often in charge of service delivery in areas especially vulnerable to corruption such as urban planning, construction or social services. Their proximity, potential ties and frequency of contact with citizens and local entrepreneurs and developers can create many opportunities for conflicts of interest to arise and put the integrity of locally elected officials to the test.

While conflicts of interest occur in all aspects of public life, local and regional authorities are particularly at risk, by virtue of their proximity and closer contacts with citizens and local entrepreneurs. Although Halifax has now regulated on this issue, the result is too often a proliferation of rules and regulations which can be difficult to manage and enforce. Greater impact can be achieved using a value-based approach, focusing on education, training, and transparency.

Conflicts-or the appearance of conflicts-of interest occur in situations where an individual has direct or indirect personal interests that may interfere with the public interest. It most often occurs when the individual has more than one role and exercises professional activities next to their public ones. It can sometimes be problematic to separate these roles, which may result in the public office being used for private advantage.

Appearances matter. It's the appearance of conflict of interest that most undermines good government and trust in government. "I did not do anything wrong or break the law" is not a defense. "I won't be influenced' is not a defense. Use your gut. If something looks bad it is bad.

Sum it all up.

Which candidate performs with dignity and style and appears true to their own values consistently - preferring improving Nova Scotia over their own comfort and interests?

Which candidate is running their own race and not running against someone else - chasing another person, idea or goal?

Which candidate do you agree with the most? Where you don't agree, do you understand why the candidate holds the position they do?

Which candidate displays the most broad-based knowledge, interests and experience?

Which candidate appears the most creative?

Which candidate has the leadership qualities you are looking for?

Which candidate's ideas look most like the tomorrow you hope for?

Choose that candidate! And remember democracy is a long game. There is no quick fix, easy way solution. Choosing good candidates is not a panacea. It's the first step on a long path to better discussion, better decisions, better politics, better government and a better Halifax.

#halifax #municipal #election #vote #local #government

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